Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Buick City Aftermath

The Truth About Cars blog has a post on the Buick City cleanup:
Michigan Radio reports that GM’s plant in Flint, Michigan, has contaminated soil and ground water and environmental officials are currently investigating what the decommissioning clean up costs could be. “So this stretch of roadway is over a mile long of different factories, so the Buick City portion that we’re talking about is 200 acres,” said Keith Edwards of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce.


  1. It's negative-spin-blather to say that a long-time factory site has "contaminated soil", etc. Of course it does. It was used as a factory back when our understanding of the issues was at a lesser level.

    "Contaminated soil" is true, almost by definition, for every piece of ground that has been used for a business process involving machinery or applied chemistry since first recorded history. Heck, probably "contaminated soil" is true for most land that was used residentially or for farming prior to the 50s or 60s. A lot of used motor oil used to be disposed by pouring it on the ground out behind the garage, or barn.

    The important distinction is "major" (the site was used for metal plating, or leather tanning, or some mining or smelting operations, or bulk waste oil disposal, or some extreme acid/base/organic chemistry processes) vs. "minor" (the site included machines, and lubricants and other miscellaneous relatively-degradable stuff was dumped or spilled over the years).

    Not making this qualification results in large numbers of individuals who don't have an adequate biochemistry-educational level to understand the issues, getting excited. Because we're a democracy, that results in bogus public policy, bad government, and distorted priorities for tax expenditures.

    "Minor" should be publically understood to be equivalent to "no big deal".

  2. I can think of several places in this state where the smell of organic solvents permeates the air near the ground, years after the "polluter" left. None of these are in Flint. The most dangerous organic solvent I could smell is benzene. Again, not in Flint.

    Make cleanup reasonable and reuse these sites again, rather than creating new sites that, years later, they decide are dangerous also. Like maybe the mercury from the compact fluorescent bulbs that got broken there after "saving energy".

  3. In fairness, one fairly common old industrial practice that might have been conducted at the Buick complex was production cleaning of metal parts prior to assembly, plating or painting. This might have been done using a chlorinated solvent such as carbon tetrachloride, tetra, perc, trike, etc.

    Sometimes such operations were conducted in a lossy fashion because it was cheaper, and some or all of the used solvent ended up either being directly dumped, or stored in barrels that eventually leaked. That, admittedly, does tend to result in a nasty soil and groundwater situation.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.